Under the direction of first-year Head Coach José Ortega, the University of Redlands softball team finished the season with a 16-24 overall record and 10-18 mark in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) action. The Bulldogs took steps in the right direction that resulted in a sixth-place finish in the standings, multiple individual awards, and a reinvigorated sense of commitment.
The Bulldogs stormed out of the gates in February with a season-opening sweep against the University of Puget Sound (WA) at the Redlands Field of Dreams. In the dominant 10-1 victory in game one, senior pitcher Lindsey Mifsud (Belmont, CA) set the tone early by sitting down three of the first four batters. After displaying patience at the plate to earn five walks, the Maroon and Gray built a 5-0 lead in the first inning. By the third frame, Redlands held a 10-run advantage that included senior shortstop Jordyn Smith's (Highland, CA) first home run of her career. Although the second game resulted in a tighter 3-1 decision, the Bulldogs' strong pitching prevailed once again, as junior Nicole Stanzione (San Marcos, CA) allowed only three hits with no runs in 4.2 innings of work. For the day, junior left fielder Jaci Sanchez (Lakewood, CA) and Smith each went 3-for-6 at the plate and combined for three RBI.
After battling through the next three contests, Redlands made it back into the win column with a 6-1 triumph against SCIAC foe, Occidental College, in the second game of a doubleheader. Sanchez paced the effort with three hits, while senior catcher Nova Siegel (Fairfield, CA), first-year third baseman Jessica Torosian (Thousand Oaks, CA), and first-year right fielder Rani Lauwers (Mountain View, CA) each rang in two hits in the all-around team-effort. Senior pitcher Mika Imoto (Vista, CA) stepped up in the circle with two strikeouts in six innings to earn her first win of the season.
On the ensuing weekend, the Maroon and Gray split results against the University of La Verne in a pair of tightly contested showdowns that were decided by two runs each. Despite Redlands' 4-6 loss in the opener, first-year left fielder Hayley DiMase (Eastvale, CA) registered a first-inning double and a triple in the third to help knot the game at two-apiece. Unfortunately, the Leopards pulled ahead with a strong sixth frame for the win. Nonetheless, the Bulldogs quickly bounced back in game two with runs from Siegel and first-year first baseman Tyesen Gordon (Lathrop, CA) in the top of the first. La Verne evened the score in the bottom of the inning, but a single and two stolen bases from senior second baseman Julianne Rodriguez (Thousand Oaks, CA) helped put the Bulldogs ahead. Sophomore centerfielder Sam Rivas (Whittier, CA) supplied an insurance RBI with a single in the top of the seventh to give Redlands a 4-2 win.
Although the Bulldogs endured some turbulence against tough competition to begin March, they found their footing by rattling off seven wins in the final 10 games of the month. Redlands opened this successful stretch with a dominant 11-3 triumph over Cal Lutheran University en route to a series sweep. In the eight-run win, DiMase turned a triple down the right-field line into an infield homer for Redlands' 4-0 lead by the third inning. In the next inning, the Bulldogs built a 9-1 advantage with doubles from Sanchez and Siegel. Stanzione pitched a full game and earned two strikeouts in the win. In addition, the Maroon and Gray took advantage of their opportunities with seven stolen bases, led by Siegel, who took two. In the backend of the doubleheader, Sanchez ripped her first triple of the season, which helped the Bulldogs gain a 3-1 advantage through three frames. The Bulldogs' defense successfully backed up Mifsud in the circle for the duration of the contest, resulting in a 4-1 win over the Regals.
Redlands made it three in a row by edging Whittier College, 4-3, just 24 hours later. Runs were at a premium for both teams until the fifth inning when first-year pinch hitter Aya Smith (Redlands, CA) doubled to put the Bulldogs on the board. Redlands produced runs in the ensuing two frames, which allowed a cushion against the Poets' three runs in the seventh. Nonetheless, back-to-back doubles in the Maroon and Gray's half inning sealed the win. DiMase and sophomore third baseman Ryanna Curtis (Upland, CA) each went 2-for-3 at the plate, while Curtis also posted two RBI.
Redlands produced sweeps in two of their three twin bills to finish out a strong month of March. While taking two against Willamette University (OR) on Faculty Appreciation Day, the Bulldogs produced a season-high nine runs in the first inning of the 16-3, game-two win. The Maroon and Gray scored runs on three consecutive at-bats to build a 4-0 lead and make it back to the top of the batting order. Rodriguez and Smith then blasted back-to-back triples, which helped the Bulldogs gain an 8-0 advantage. Gordon capped off the nine-run inning with an RBI-single for the team's season-best ninth run. Imoto earned the complete-game win with six strikeouts in a solid outing. Smith connected on a 3-for-4 clip at the plate, notching two runs and two RBI.
In the final two games of the month, Redlands swept Occidental College with two exciting victories. After relinquishing a two-run lead in the first, the Bulldogs answered with a lucrative second inning before scoring twice more in back-to-back frames. Sanchez batted 1.000 on three hits and four RBI, while DiMase went 3-for-4 at the plate. In the second game, the Maroon and Gray pulled ahead early with two runs but kept its foot on the gas pedal with five runs over the next two innings to aid a 7-2 advantage. Redlands secured the sweep with a run in the sixth and seventh for the 9-5 win. In addition to her three-hit game, Rodriguez registered a stolen base, which made her the leader in the conference with 14 at the time.
On April 6, the Bulldogs returned home for Strike Out Cancer Day against the University of La Verne in a doubleheader split. Despite giving up two runs in the first inning, the Maroon and Gray worked to tie the game by the fourth. With solid pitching and defense sustaining the tie, Siegel stepped up for an RBI-double to plate the game-winning run in walk-off fashion. During the second game, A. Smith went yard for the first time in a Maroon and Gray uniform to put the Bulldogs up in the fourth, but the lead slipped away by a one-run margin.
Following a seven-game skid against conference foes over the next two weeks, the Bulldogs revealed their resiliency and determination with a huge win over No. 7 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges on April 19. The Athenas scored two runs in the bottom of the first, but the Bulldogs remained within striking distance to keep the pressure on CMS. J. Smith provided a momentum shift with her third home run of the season to make it 1-2 after six. In the top of the seventh, Redlands worked together to make a crafty game-winning play. Siegel registered an infield single to the shortstop, which allowed Gordon to use her speed to beat out the throw at second. Meanwhile, both Rodriguez and senior right fielder Jennifer Ng (Pleasanton, CA) sped home on the throw for the go-ahead runs. Mifsud took it from there with a clean inning to secure the Bulldogs' impressive 3-2 victory over the nationally-ranked opponent. J. Smith went 3-for-3, while Ng provided a 2-for-3 effort, including the game-tying run. Mifsud pitched a complete game and limited an explosive CMS offense to just five hits. This was one of just four SCIAC losses for the Athenas.
The next day, the Bulldogs captured a game-one win against Cal Lutheran University on Senior Day. In the 10-7 victory, the Maroon and Gray led off with three consecutive singles to create some early momentum. Torosian's third dinger of the season gave Redlands its sixth run of the game, but Cal Lutheran eventually pulled ahead with a solid sixth inning to make it 7-6. Redlands kept its composure with solid hitting, as highlighted by a two-RBI single from Rivas, to help capture a 10-7 lead. The Bulldogs' defense stepped up in the seventh to leave two runners stranded on base for the game-one win.
Unfortunately, the Maroon and Gray ran out of steam with losses in the final three games of the season. The team finished sixth in the standings, just six wins away from making the SCIAC Postseason Tournament.
Overall, Rodriguez represented the Bulldogs on the All-SCIAC First Team, while Siegel earned a spot on the Second Team, each of which were first-time accomplishments. In conference action, Rodriguez batted .456 off of 41 hits. She also scored 19 runs and led the SCIAC with 21 stolen bases. Siegel notched a team-leading 91 at-bats in 28 conference games, connecting on 33 hits, including nine doubles and her first home run as a Bulldog. She produced a .972 fielding percentage and yielded 54 putouts and 15 assists. Rodriguez also gained a National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-West Region Second-Team nod.
Although the loss of the talented senior class is significant, the Bulldog softball team holds high hopes for a bright future under the direction of a dedicated and optimistic coaching staff. With a desire to establish a new chapter of success, Redlands works to build on this year's momentum as it further develops its style, skill, and mentality for an upward climb into the SCIAC and beyond.